Poser over sperm survival: 36 or 65 hours?

By Teoh El Sen, FMT

KUALA LUMPUR: An Australian forensic expert agrees today that sperm cells can be discovered inside a person’s body up to 65 hours after sexual intercourse when testifying in the Anwar Ibrahim’s Sodomy II trial.

Dr David Lawrence Noel Wells concurred with lead prosecutor Solicitor-General II Mohd Yusof Zainal Abiden when the latter pointed to a United Kingdom study published in the “Forensic Science International” journal in 1982.

This contradicted Well’s testimony yesterday which stated that sperm could only survive up to 36 hours.

However, Wells, the head of forensic medicine at the Victoria Institute of Medicine, quickly cautioned that he, as well as most of those experts in his field, would put “reservations” on that finding as it was the only published case for over 30 years.

“This particular 1982 paper is often quoted and it is quite depressing that in 30 years there’s only one case. I would like to hear of one other case. The question is, how much weight should we put on this? Should we base all of our forensic findings on a single untested case?” asked Wells.

Mohd Yusof also referred to an article in “Clinical Forensic Medicine” by WDS Mclay. The paper said research showed sperm may be identified and rectal swabs taken up to three days after anal intercourse even when defecation has occurred.

The article also suggested that samples could be obtained even if an individual has showered. However, Wells stuck to his previous stand.

“From my experience, to get an extraction after more than 20 to 36 hours is very rare. I have never heard of such a case. The single case was in 1982. The question is how much weight do you put on that case,” said the expert in the field of sexual assault cases.

Wells: It is exceedingly rare to get any results beyond 20 to 36 hours.

Mohd Yusof: Then why do you think doctors suggest that swabs can be taken from the anus after three days up to 65 hours? This sample can even be taken when the victim has showered.

Wells: The article you are quoting from also refers to the single 1982 case.

Mohd Yusof: But can you say it’s not possible.

Wells: No I can’t say.

Doctor stumped

Wells added that “in medicine, you sometimes have to be realistic. Why don’t we collect toxicological samples from patients who consumed something two to three months ago? There’s a reason for it”.

“I would not base a scientific premise on a single case; with some confidence I can say (in Anwar’s case) that already we have a sample that is not dried and not frozen and kept at room temperature; the possibility is very small that you can extract a foreign DNA,” said Wells.

Wells added that there have been numerous attempts to test for sperm specimens 36 hours later, with “zero” results.